Author Jim Harrison has won international acclaim for his masterful body of work, including Returning to Earth, Legends of the Fall and over thirty books of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. In his most original work to date, Harrison delivers an enthralling, witty and expertly-crafted novel following one man’s hunt for an elusive cult leader, dubbed The Great Leader.”
On the verge of retirement, Detective Sunderson begins to investigate a hedonistic cult, which has set up camp near his home in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. At first, the self-declared Great Leader seems merely a harmless oddball, but as Sunderson and his sixteen-year-old sidekick dig deeper, they find him more intelligent and sinister than they realized. Recently divorced and frequently pickled in alcohol, Sunderson tracks his quarry from the woods of Michigan to a town in Arizona, filled with criminal border-crossers, and on to Nebraska, where the Great Leader’s most recent recruits have gathered to glorify his questionable religion. But Sunderson’s demons are also in pursuit of him.
Rich with character and humor, The Great Leader is at once a gripping excursion through America’s landscapes and the poignant story of a man grappling with age, lost love and his own darker nature.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
"Faux mystery" is right. If you are expecting a good detective story then you should probably pass. I think this is my 7th Harrison book so I'm used to Harrison getting side-tracked which is ok by me. Simon Sunderson (main character) is a 65 yr old recently retired Michigan State Police detective. His beloved wife recently divorced him which he deeply regrets. However, he is a man with great appetites (sex, booze, food, books to name a few). There is no way a man could eat and drink as much as Sunderson. He always has his eyes open for a cute butt. The story is set primarily in Michigan (U.P.) with side trips to AZ and NB. The "Great Leader" is a cult leader who recruits and has sex with underage girls. There was a review on the jacket that I thought made sense. This story is a kind of meditation on life, sex, religion, relationships and other "big life" issues. However, the book is also Harrison's thoughts on what the "good life" entails...
Although elusive cult leader Dwight, aka the Great Leader (GL), or reinvented as King David, is a degenerate criminal, who preys on young teenage girls, just retiring Michigan State policeman Detective Sunderson is somewhat intrigued by GL's ability to meld sex, money, and religion. Even after retirement, Sunderson makes it his mission to track down GL from the shores of Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula (UP) to the Apache desert region of Arizona to the Sand Hills of Nebraska.
But the fact is, this book is primarily about the journey of Sunderson himself, including his past, much of which is slowly revealed on his camping and walking forays. Sunderson is an unmoored soul, not at all sure what to do with himself. Not only has his lifelong work disappeared but his lengthy marriage to the good-looking, efficient Diane ended three years before, precipitating protracted drinking bouts, which have lessened only slightly.
About 30 years ago I encountered an anthologized short story by this (at that time) unfamiliar writer, Jim Harrison. I was stunned: Here was an artist who wrote of Michigan outdoors, dogs, sex, food, women, road trips, and blowhards, and blended these topics into something that I couldn't put down. Since then, I've read almost everything he's written, and discovered that while I like only the occasional poem, I really enjoy his fiction and essays. Why? I have to think that I appreciate his honesty and his balance. Men do think like this main character, Sunderson, who suffers from self-doubt, remorse, and guilt even as he reaches an age (65 and retirement) at which he is expected to have most things figured out. I also marvel at Harrison's prose style, in which there is a surprising and nimble balance: In one longish paragraph,he can go from regretting losing his wife, to momentarily lusting after someone he shouldn't, to marveling at the beauty of natural Michigan/Arizona,to enjoying...
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